freddie shake

"...You talked about all the different musical styles, genres, sub-genres... at some point man I'm like, just plug in your guitar, turn it up and play something cool!"  -- Freddie Nelson

 

 
Yes, we did talk.

A lot.

It started as an interview, but as we went on it became a conversation that just kept getting better. I could actually write this interview backwards.

Why do I say this? It went full circle. It became an improvisational jam session, or as Freddie put it, "This was fun. It went places I wouldn't have expected. We were just riffing."

 
All of the best interviews I've done over my career had the exact same flow and rhythm. Alex Lifeson, Dweezil Zappa, Slash, Brad Whitford, John Paul Jones, Jason Newstead, Michael Hutchence, Neil Innes, Cy Curnin, Dave Abruzezze... what began as an interview centered on the topic at hand turned into a bullshit session between buds.
 
Dare I add the name, "Freddie Nelson", to that list? (Dare! Dare!)
 
Yes, I dare.
 
This Time It's Personal
 
freddie3Calling "Shake The Cage" a solo album is an understatement. Freddie played all the instruments except the drums, wrote all the songs and recorded everything himself at his home studio (except the drums, which we'll get to in a minute).
 
"Writing... man, you know. It's a 24/7 process" said Freddie with a laugh.  "Honestly, it was really about working on on my own time. If I wanted to go sing at 2am, I could.  I didn't want to get caught up dealing with other people's schedules, their job, girlfriend, whatever.  The more I thought about it, the more I just wanted to do it myself without any restrictions.  I had this music inside that I wanted to bring to life. When Paul (Gilbert) and I wrote the "United States" record, it was just he and I, and I kind of got a vision that this was something I could in my own house. That led to something I feel good about."
 
The tracks on "Shake The Cage" reflect that deeply personal need to bring this music to life. When I told Freddie every song on "Shake The Cage" is a member of the family, but each one is also unique, much like children born of the same parents, there was a pause.

"That's an interesting analogy" said Freddie quietly, like he was speaking to himself for a moment, and then he immediately became more animated, "I never really thought about it that way, but I like it!  During the span of time when I was writing it, there were a lot of things going on in my life-- stuff with my family-- and at any one time, I was never in the same place, emotionally, mentally... even physically (laughs). It was a roller coaster. I didn't stop on any one destination. I think the album reflects that."

Even though Freddie wanted this to truly be a solo effort, he knows the value of having a "third eye" or in this case, ear, when recording an album.
 
267px ThomasLang"I would put the demos together and send them cross country to the great (drummer and producer) Thomas Lang , who I met while helping Paul Gilbert with his last record."
 
Lang is a top session drummer and producer in Los Angeles whose credits include working with the likes of The Commodores, Kelly Clarkson, George Michael and Peter Gabriel.  "He loved what he heard." said Freddie, like he was still surprised. "I did play drums on the demos, but I had these massive fills, rolls, whatever, in my head that I couldn't pull off, so I left these blanks where the fills would go! (laughs)".
 
Lang apparently heard what was needed because he offered to play drums on the record, something Freddie admits floored him.
 

"You don't turn Thomas Lang down when he offers to play drums on your record!" said Freddie with a laugh.  "To me he is probably the most technically proficient drummer on the planet... I mean, all drummers fear him! (laughs). He is truly a drummer's drummer, but what I discovered about him is, he has one of the most amazing grooves and just... killer pocket. He has the ability to move the pocket around the click... just badass grooves. He's a monster with that."

 
The production quality of "Shake The Cage" is totally top shelf, especially considering the tracks were recorded in a home studio. Freddie is quick to credit the engineer he mixed with:  "I owe a lot of that to, getting a great mix... I mixed in Los Angeles with a guy named Rob Hill at X Music Studios and he's worked with a lot of great artists like Deftones. He actually remixed "A Night at The Opera" (Queen) with Brian May. They had to go to London-- they went to Abbey Road!"
 
Freddie's excitement when speaking of Abbey Road makes perfect sense as he cites The Beatles as one of his earliest influences, but when it comes to guitar, I could tell this man loves Ritchie Blackmore. I actually sent Freddie a text about it while listening to "Shake The Cage", before reading his bio, which confirmed my observation.

"You know, when I got your text, the first thing that popped into my mind was, 'Oh man, that is a great compliment!' When I was a kid, I remember opening up a double LP called, "Made In Japan" (Deep Purple), and I remember looking at Blackmore, and he was just kneeling on the ground in front of this wall of Marshalls, playing that Strat, and I'm like, 'Oh my God! What am I seeing? I want to do this! I want to be this!' Then I put it on and I heard him play... I mean honestly, the first chord of "Highway Star", my life was changed!  I thought, "I don't know how, but this is the path I'm taking!'"

freddie1Freddie is one of the most gifted live performers this writer has ever seen-- local and national.  His stage presence is undeniable and as one of his fans put it, "Whether it's ten people or 10,000, his gives 200% every show".
 
The changes in the music industry have been many in the digital age. The multitude of entertainment options available to the public  present new challenges to artists, and Freddie is aware of that aspect when talking about performing live in the digital age of instant gratification through instant "product production". Despite the DIY potential of computer-driven artistic output in today's marketplace, at the end of the day--especially when performing live-- the essentials are still what count in his view.
 
"Ya know... you KNOW this, man! Freddie said with a laugh. "In this day and age, there's so much stuff put out there, and it's so quick... everyone wants it quick.   Just the way social media is... the technology is available to just get it out there quick. But. there is simply no substitute for honing your craft, working hard, great songs, stunning performances, real emotion... I mean, this is the stuff that people respond to. Regardless of whether I'm sitting here alone recording in the studio, or playing live, I'm still trying to turn someone on. I mean... somebody, somewhere, is paying their hard earned money to see and hear you do what you do. I never considered this anything but a gift. To be able to walk on to a stage, turn a Marshall on to 7 or 8, step up to a mic and open my mouth, and people are willing to pay for that!"
 
freddie2When Freddie says, "Step up to the mic", he means it. All the vocals on "Shake the Cage" are performed by Freddie. Anyone who has seen him live and heard him singing backups since back in the day with Triple XXX has said they thought he should sing more. A guitarist who can shred and has a great voice is a real commodity. Think, Tommy Shaw, Peter Frampton type of great singer/guitarists. For Freddie, it was really a practical solution to the problems associated with other people's schedules. I honestly think he is so humble, he genuinely doesn't realize how impressive his vocals actually are.
 
"I kind of became a singer the same way I took on this project itself," he replied when asked about the vocal tracks.  " I just got tired of working around around other people's schedules, so I just said, 'Okay, I'm just going to do this myself.'  As a singer, I discovered, you gotta take care of yourself, because you body is your instrument. I used to drink too much (much laughter as it takes one to know one) but I've become more conscious of taking care of myself."
 
"Shake The Cage" is a perfect example of everything Freddie has striven for in his career. Great songs, solid performances, memorable melodies and real emotion. It is a record that weaves various styles and genres into the classic rock fabric of the whole, and it's as fresh sounding as the music that inspired Freddie was as a kid discovering Deep Purple and The Beatles. 

That kid lives in this album.

"For me, melody is everything..." said Freddie.  "Reaching people on an emotional level.  I'd just as soon grab one note and hold it if people are digging it. I mean, you can't go wrong with melody. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with playing fast, whatever, but I've just always been a melody guy."

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Category: Main Stage